In this special Enhancement seminar, visiting speakers Rob Sparrow and Chris Gyngell discussed two aspects of enhancement. You can hear the podcast here (mp3).
Rob Sparrow on ‘Enhancement and Obsolescence: Avoiding An “Enhanced Rat Race”‘: A claim about continuing technological progress plays an essential, if unacknowledged, role in the philosophical literature on “human enhancement”. Advocates for enhancement typically point to the rapid progress being made in the development of biotechnologies, information technology, and nanotechnology as evidence that we will soon be able to achieve significant improvements on normal human capacities through applications of these technologies. Sparrow argues that – should it eventuate – continuous improvement in enhancement technologies may prove more bane than benefit. A rapid increase in the power of available enhancements would mean that each cohort of enhanced individuals will find itself in danger of being outcompeted by the next in competition for important social goods – a situation he characterises as an ‘enhanced rat race’. Rather than risk the chance of being rendered technologically and socially obsolete by the time one is in one’s early 20s, it may be rational to prefer that a wide range of enhancements that would generate positional disadvantages that outweigh their absolute advantages be prohibited altogether. The danger of an enhanced rat race therefore constitutes a novel argument in favour of abandoning the pursuit of certain sorts of enhancements.
Chris Gyngell on ‘Stocking the Genetic Supermarket: Genetic Enhancements and Collective Action Problems’: In the near future parents may be able to directly alter the genetic make-up of their children using genetic engineering technologies (GETs). A popular model that has been proposed for regulating access to GETs is the ‘genetic supermarket’. In the genetic supermarket parents are free to make decisions about which genes to select for their children with little state interference. One possible consequence of the genetic supermarket is that ‘collective action problems’ will arise. The combined result of individuals using the market to pursue self-interested gains may have a negative effect on society as a whole, and on future generations. In this paper Gyngell asks whether GETs targeting height, innate immunity, and certain cognitive traits would lead to collective action problems if available in the genetic supermarket. he argues that that the widespread availability of GETs targeting height are unlikely to lead to genuine collective action problems, but that those targeting innate immunity and aspects of our cognition, could. He then discusses some implications of this claim for the regulation of GETs.
On 9 May 2013, Salla Sariola, from ETHOX, gave a fascinating talk at the St Cross Ethics Seminar, based on work done collaboratively with Bob Simpson (Durham). The presentation focused on the large number of self-poisonings which have been taking place in Sri Lanka, often using lethal agricultural pesticides and herbicides unavailable in many developed countries. This presentation is now available as a podcast at the bottom right of the Oxford Uehiro Centre main webpage. Continue reading
Frej Klem Thomsen, ‘Rescuing Responsibility from the Retributivists – Neuroscience, Free Will and Criminal Punishment’ (Podcast)
Do advances in neuroscience threaten the idea of free will, and if so, what practical implications does this have, for instance when it comes to criminal responsibility and punishment? In a stimulating talk at the Uehiro seminar (the podcast of which is available here), Frej Klem Thomsen, assistant professor of philosophy at Roskilde University, discussed the answers that the prominent American neuroscientists Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen have proposed to those questions . Briefly put, Greene and Cohen predict that cognitive neuroscience will make it increasingly apparent to everyone that (as some philosophers have argued centuries ago already) there is no such thing as free will as commonly understood. This, they add, will shift the approach to punishment in criminal law from the current “retributivist” one to a consequentialist one – a change they also judge desirable, on the grounds that the current approach relies on intuitions they take to be scientifically untenable.
The most recent St. Cross Ethics Seminar took place on February 28th, 2013. Kyle Edwards, who is currently a DPhil Candidate at Oxford, led it. Her informative and compelling presentation was entitled “Methods of Legitimation: How Ethics Committees Decide Which Reasons Count.”
(A podcast of the seminar is located here: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/HT13STX_KE.mp3)
In this talk, (which you can listen to here) Neil Levy brings a new perspective to the debate concerning the moral responsibility of psychopaths. Previously, this debate has been thought to turn on the question of whether psychopaths have moral knowledge. Here, Levy argues that regardless of whether psychopaths count as having moral knowledge, we ought to believe that they lack moral responsibility on the grounds that their intentions don’t have the kinds of contents that can underwrite full-blown moral responsibility. Continue reading
On Monday 4th of March, the Centre for Practical Ethics hosted a joint lecture on the evaluation of the effectiveness of charitable organizations, given by Toby Ord and Harry Shannon. Their lectures and ensuing discussion covered a range of different topics, including the numerical methods for assessing the effectiveness of a charity, the philosophical concepts that underpin the concept of effectiveness in charitable giving, and the moral implications of various methods of allocating money to these organizations.
You can listen to the podcast of the seminar at this link.
Toby Ord is a research fellow in philosophy at the Future of Humanity Institute, and also the founder of Giving What We Can, an organization that promotes charitable giving and evaluates charities based on their cost-effectiveness.
Harry Shannon is a medical statistician at McMaster University, who is currently visiting Oxford Brookes university.
Wednesday the 6th of February saw two of the most prominent ethicists of our time engage in a (friendly) debate on two crucial, related philosophical questions: the value of life and the badness of death. (You can listen to the podcast of the debate here.) In a room filled to capacity at the Oxford Philosophy Faculty, Jeff McMahan, Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University, and John Broome, White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford, discussed their respective views on these questions, explaining in turn where they agreed and disagreed with each other and why, using rigorous, sophisticated philosophical arguments.
Many of us are guilty of sleeping more than we really need to. Moreover, some people just need more sleep than others. In this talk, (which you can listen to here) Alexandre Erler argues that this means that many of us (who sleep excessively) are severely restricting our opportunities for well-being, and that the unfortunate people who need long sleep are significantly restricted in their opportunities for well-being by their need for sleep; in view of this, he argues that more research ought to be carried out into ways in which people might safely be able to restrict their sleep. Continue reading
Tony Coady on Religion in the Political Sphere: Part 3 – Religious Positives for Liberal Democracies
In debates about the virtues of religion, it is often difficult for scholars to agree on which interpretation of a particular religion’s mandates and precepts is an accurate one. Do the world’s major religions promote civil discourse, tolerance, and mutual respect, or are do the truth claims embedded in their ideologies promote argument, vitriol, and in the worst cases, untold violence?
The former, argues Professor Tony Coady in his final Leverhulme lecture on November 29th, entitled “Religious Positives for Liberal Democracies.” (Full podcast) In his lecture, Coady briefly recaps the arguments from his first two lectures, harshly criticizing the notion that “public” or “secular” reasoning is somehow neutral, and vociferously rebutting the notion that religion and religious people are inherently prone to violence. While in his first two lectures, Coady focused his attention on the theoretical and philosophical questions which undergird debates about the role of religious reasoning in the public square, in his final lecture, he examines the ways in which religion (using Christianity as an example) upholds liberal virtues that are fundamental to flourishing democratic debate and deliberative democracy.